Shortly after emigrating from Russia in 1908, Abraham and Molly Brickman fled the overcrowded tenements of New York City and purchased land in the Catskills just outside South Fallsburg, in Sullivan County, NY.
Like many eastern European Jews who ended up in the mountains, Abraham had been a farmer in the old country, and he expected to farm here. But just like most of those who came to Sullivan County to make a living farming back then, Abraham Brickman discovered through experience why the old timers in the area used to say you could always tell when you were in Sullivan County because there were “two stones for every dirt.”
Farming here was extremely difficult, and not very lucrative. So, Abraham Brickman and his family began to take in boarders to help make ends meet, and soon farming had taken a back seat to entertaining guests at Brickman’s Pleasant Valley Farm.
By the time Abraham and Molly’s daughter and son-in-law, Anna and Joseph Posner took over the operation, Pleasant Valley Farm had grown into the Brickman Hotel, which would eventually evolve into one of the most successful of Sullivan County’s 538 Golden Age Catskills resorts.
Under the watchful eyes of Anna and Joseph’s two sons, Ben and Murray, the hotel continued to grow, and by 1964 it was one of the ten largest hotels in the region, advertising accommodations for 700 guests and offering all the usual amenities, plus a nursery and a day camp for the children of the guests.
The origin story of the Brickman is not too much different from the stories of dozens — perhaps even hundreds – of other Sullivan County hotels of the era, including Grossinger’s. And Patti Posner, Ben’s daughter, and Anna and Joseph’s granddaughter, lived through much of it. Now she is sharing the story with the rest of us, having published My View from the Mountains: A Catskill Memoir (Self-Published, 2023), a very personal story with a universal appeal that was nearly 50 years in the making.
Ms. Posner says she had first considered writing her memoir about growing up at the hotel when a friend suggested she do so in the 1970s, but the time didn’t seem right. “I was too young to reflect on my experience of growing up and working at the hotel. I was still in the story,” she said the other day.
Now, more than 20 years after starting to write about her life, her family and the hotel, Ms. Posner has finished the book, and it is now on sale on Amazon, generating excellent reviews for its personal insights into the unique world of running a resort hotel in the Sullivan County Catskills, which for many hotel owners—at least the successful ones — amounted to opening their homes to the public, and watching perfect strangers become friends of the family as they returned year after year.
“It was our home, and we ran the hotel in that manner,” Ms. Posner said. “Ben and Murray were personally involved in many of the details of the daily running of the hotel. I was going to say, ‘running our business,’ but that didn’t feel authentic. Yes, it was our business, but it was our hotel, our home. We lived there with our staff and our guests. My dad, in particular, was an extraordinary man, and he treated everyone with respect, from a porter to a paying guest. As a business, the better you treated your staff, the better they treated your guests and the better your guests were treated, the more successful your business was. People used to ask me how come I was so nice and accommodating to our guests. And I would point to my sweater and say, ‘they, the guests, bought me my sweater.’”
Although there is no question that “the Borscht Belt” is a very hot topic these days, many are not enamored with the phrase. Ms. Posner is one of those, and you won’t find it in her book.
“I find that ‘Borscht Belt’ is dismissive of the entire Catskills experience, and it is demeaning to the area and to Jews in general,” she said. “It does not represent the experience of all of us who grew up as locals, many of whom were not Jewish, it does not speak to the many non-Jews who were guests at the hotels. It does not speak to our non-Jewish employees.”
To be sure, it is not what is left out, but what is included in My View from the Mountains that makes it worth the read. There has rarely been a more insightful, intimate peek into the Catskills resort experience.
“Vacationers didn’t need to see this at the time they were on vacation, but I think if they are going to capture the history of the Catskills then they must know the complete story,” Ms. Posner said. “Without knowing the foundation of our running a resort, they will never know the whole story.”
Now they can.
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